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Ask A Catholic: What is the Rosary?

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By Matthew Sewell

What is the Rosary? How do you pray it? When do you pray it? Are there different kinds?

catholicThe Rosary is perhaps the most commonly known and most popular form of devotion practiced by Catholics and, believe it or not, even many non-Catholics. In short, the Rosary is a series of prayers is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, that provides a contemplative walk through the life and significant events of Jesus Christ.

A normal rosary looks like this:

rosary

How to pray the Rosary

The rosary is made up of a crucifix (a cross bearing the crucified Jesus), five introductory beads, a medal (usually bearing an image of Jesus & Mary), and five sets of 10 beads with a single bead between each set. Depending on the day, a different set of “mysteries” are used to guide the person praying through the Rosary (more on that in a minute).

Only six prayers are used when a person prays the Rosary: the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the O My Jesus (The Decade Prayer), and the Hail Holy Queen.

The person praying the rosary starts by making the Sign of the Cross and kissing the crucifix, then recites the Apostles’ Creed. Next, moving to the first bead, an Our Father is said for the intentions of the Holy Father, Pope Francis. On the next three beads, a Hail Mary is recited, one each for an increase in the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Then, a Glory Be is recited.

Once the introductory prayers are finished, the rest of the rosary follows this structure:

  • 1 – Our Father
  • 10 – Hail Marys
  • 1 – Glory Be
  • 1 – O My Jesus

After praying all 5 “decades”, as they’re called, the Hail Holy Queen (my personal favorite) is recited to end the Rosary, followed by the Sign of the Cross and a concluding kiss of the crucifix.

The Mysteries of the Rosary (and when to pray it)

As I mentioned previously, the rosary is a walk through significant events in the life of Jesus Christ and, by extension, His mother Mary. These “mysteries”, as they’re referred to, are divided into four categories — Sorrowful, Glorious, Joyful, and Luminous — and there are recommendations of which mysteries to pray during each day of the week. In addition, all but two are pulled explicitly from Sacred Scripture (the remaining pair are alluded to in the book of Revelation).

THE JOYFUL MYSTERIES

(Mondays and Saturdays, may be said on Sundays during  Advent and Christmas):

  1. The Annunciation of Jesus’ conception to Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
  2. The Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:40-56)
  3. The Nativity, or birth of Jesus (Luke 2:6-20)
  4. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:21-39)
  5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-51)

THE SORROWFUL MYSTERIES

(Tuesdays and Fridays, may be said on Sundays during Lent ):

  1. The Agony in the Garden (Matthew 26:36-46)
  2. The Scourging at the Pillar (Matthew 27:26)
  3. The Crowning with Thorns (Matthew 27:29)
  4. The Carrying of the Cross (John 19:17)
  5. The Crucifixion (Luke 23:33-46)

THE GLORIOUS MYSTERIES

(Wednesdays and Sundays):

  1. The Resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24:1-12)
  2. The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven (Luke 24:50-51)
  3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4)
  4. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary body and soul into heaven (Revelation 12)
  5. The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven (Revelation (12:1)

THE LUMINOUS MYSTERIES

(Thursdays):

  1. The Baptism in the Jordan (Matthew 3:1-17)
  2. The Wedding at Cana (John 2:5-7)
  3. Proclamation of the Kingdom (10:7-8)
  4. The Transfiguration of Jesus (Luke 9:29, 35)
  5. Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper (Luke 22:19-20)

A couple caveats

The Hail Mary is Scriptural 

One of the most common objections to the rosary as a form of prayer is that it’s unbiblical and/or basically Mary-worship. However, a simple breakdown of the prayer itself shows something different:

  • “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” is taken straight from the mouth of the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation in Luke 1:28.
  • “Blessed art thou, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus” is the greeting given to Mary in Luke 1:42 by Elizabeth, when Mary visits her in Judah. (Also: listen to this podcast to have your mind BLOWN about this topic).
  • “Holy Mary” was covered by the first bullet point.
  • “Mother of God” is a true statement, if we believe Jesus is indeed God.
  • “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death” isn’t in Scripture, but intercessory prayer is. So, if we believe Mary is in heaven (after all, what God wouldn’t have his mother in heaven with him) and that Jesus cares what his mom thinks, then we should always ask for Mary’s prayers and intercession to her divine Son.

The rosary is not a “vain repetition”

Without a doubt, Jesus condemned meaningless repetition in Matthew 6:7, but it was directed at those who pray loudly but have an empty heart. After all, it was Jesus who gave us the Lord’s Prayer (presumably to be prayed often), and we see passages like those in Psalm 136 where repetition is a major part of the devotion of a particular prayer. The rosary is meant to be such a meditation — when praying through the 12 prayers in a given decade, the person praying should be meditating on the given mystery as a way to deepen one’s relationship and understanding with Christ.

Final thoughts

The Rosary isn’t a prayer that’s required to be prayed at any given time, but down through the centuries it’s been the devotion of choice by multitudes of believers because of its simple, repetitive, accessible nature. I personally try to pray the rosary daily, though lately I’ve only been successful half the time!

So next time you’re out and about, pick one up at the nearest Christian book store, or borrow one that’s sitting in the back of a church. It truly is a beautiful meditation on the life of Our Lord, whether you’re Catholic or not.

“The rosary is the book of the blind, where souls see and there enact the greatest drama of love the world has ever known; it is the book of the simple, which initiates them into mysteries and knowledge more satisfying than the education of other men; it is the book of the aged, whose eyes close upon the shadow of this world, and open on the substance of the next. The power of the rosary is beyond description.” -Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Matthew Sewell

About Matthew Sewell

Matthew Sewell, a Denver Broncos fan and amateur Chestertonian, loves golf, music, truth and good food. A lifelong Catholic, he graduated from a Catholic college (Carroll College; Helena, Mont.) but experienced a "re-version" to the faith during graduate studies at a state school (N. Arizona; Flagstaff, Ariz.). Irony is also one of his favorite things. He and his wife currently reside in Spokane, though they're Montanans at heart. He blogs at mtncatholic.com.

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